App-only eCommerce: A bad idea

Flipkart has gone ahead and officially stated, that over the year, it will shut down its desktop and (surely) mobile website and move to an app-only store. They seem to be following the sister concern Myntra's move to go app-only from May 1st, a week from now. If you ask me, they could not have got it more wrong.

Recent data might suggest (I don't have this data, but somebody must have used more than their gut feeling to announce such a move, right?) that there is a tremendous growth for acquisition and conversion on Apps; especially a huge potential in 'Tier II and beyond' bases in India. So true of a country where most people get their first taste of internet freedom via a mobile data plan. But, that is just a part of the picture.

Then, there is the theory that suggests internet will go the 'Push way' and 'supply' information you need like a 'utility' such as water and electricity. OK. Enough said. Then there is the other theory that uses the evolving platform/notification features of recent and upcoming Android and iO/S versions with streaming notifications to weakly support that App is the only way to go.

After its Billion Dollar Sale blunder, Flipkart is likely readying itself for another blunder with its app-only move. Agreed, that are many reasons to have an app for an e-commerce set-up and they are great for several good reasons. But does that mean you do not have a mobile website or desktop website altogether? That's preposterous.

I buy a lot, much to my wife's chagrin (generally, about spending), a lot... online. For many reasons, the purchases are split, chiefly, between Flipkart and Amazon, and to a smaller extent, Snapdeal, eBay, category stores and the likes. Then there are the specialized sites in international locations catering to a national population. I go there too. There is no count of how many times I have used and will use the apps of local cab companies to call a ride across town, Airline tickets, hotel bookings, restaurant reviews, product reviews, movie tickets and a few other things I am forgetting, all have been bought online. But, with the exception of Taxis, that too only in the last few months, I have not used apps exclusively for any type of purchase. For all but Taxis, apps is just the last step for me. I would be a typical if not a champion profile of the current generation of digital consumers. So, may be they should be reading this article and considering my perspective. Here it is:

  • I like to research the products that I buy. Mobile App, how much ever passionately you built it, sucks for this purpose. Don't take it personally. It's the same for everyone. I don't even want to talk about how difficult it is to filter and sort products (why restrict the filter and sort options on Apps?). Worse, if I am simply 'exploring' a category for what's new out there. 
  • I like the big feel of the pictures. No, pinch zoom is a compromise for me; for those times that I am in a queue at a checkout line or killing time at the airport.
  • I go to apps, sure, for making that final step of buying and taking that app-only discount or another incentive you have put out there for me.
  • I sign out of apps, after I do the purchase. Sometime, I uninstall a shopping app altogether, just to avoid your excitement of 'offers I should not miss'.
  • Push is NOT they way for me. Of the several mailboxes I maintain, my work mailbox is the only one that's on Push or Sync mode. I like to pull down the screen to refresh my mailboxes. That's the way it should be. I choose when I want to see the email. If I expect something critical, I will go there more often. But that true for email and it's true for everything else.
  • If you figure out my buying journey and 'attribution' entirely and accurately, you'll see that I will come to your desktop site as many times as I need to know more about the product, the comparisons, the reviews (until more reviews get posted) and shipping policies, wishlist, reading book excerpts etc. I do all this on the Desktop site. I grew up reading newspapers and still read a lot of books (checkout my order history, if you can). But, I don't do all the product related reading in a small screen, simply because I have better choice- the widescreen of the laptop (I am not forgetting that App on a Tab also provides a midway solution).
If you read between the lines, you will see themes of usability, user interface, user experience and traditional convenience of a large screen. Mobile apps might be hep and the key thing for your VC/PE pitches, but for me, all's good as long as you keep your desktop sites live and running. Shut down your desktop site and I will leave in a hurry, because you ignored one segment, the likes of me.

Flipkart, India's homegrown eCommerce bell weather might just go down in the history for the biggest blunder yet (even if they later recover from their big bet), should they decide to shutdown their desktop site. Don't do it.


A Lazy Dad's guide to teaching your child to ride a bicycle

or "How I taught my son to gain balance, on his own"

The earliest memories I have of riding a bicycle are of the 'Paramount' 16 inch bicycle with a long saddle and steel back support. I remember my dad running behind me teaching me to gain balance. Thanks to him, I learned about the confidence, mobility and independence that came with riding a bicycle, early in life. I would like to pass on the same to my son, I thought.

My son was five years old when we got him his first bicycle, a Maxit 14 inch. Little did I realize I had, in part, put a mental handicap of sorts on him by putting training wheels on the bike. A month passed, then two. He would never bring himself to take the weight off either the left or the right side training wheel. Wheels kept getting worn or broken.

A few days later, at Decathlon sports store, I saw,the "run and ride" or "push and balance" bicycles. These bicycles do not have a drive train on them. Built for 2-4 year olds, these are normal looking bikes without chain, sprockets and pedals. (What's a Balance Bicycle?) Children push the bicycle ahead by pushing back the ground with their feet, one foot a time alternately. Doing so teaches them to learn balance. It made sense. Without a parent or elder running behind them shouting instructions, the child will be free to pull up his instincts and likely learn balance faster. Unfortunately, I had already bought a bicycle and buying just for balance was impractical.

That evening, at home I read up about tricks to teach a child to gain riding balance. I couldn't find anything I was not already doing. Add to it, my work schedule made it tough to commit time everyday to the effort. For some very good reasons, my wife was not up to the task, even though she is a rider. I did not want to lose any more time either. That's when the 'lazy dad' in me kicked in to make everyone happy with a workable solution. It was time to get hands dirty, literally.

I removed the drive system completely. The bottom bracket, pedals, chain ring/sprocket and chain, the chain protector (it should be really called 'ankle joint protector'). I cleaned the bottom bracket of any residues and reset the wheel. Obviously, no training wheels either. My son did not like it one bit. He wanted all of those things right back on the bicycle. To him, it did not look like a bicycle. I spent the next evening teaching my son to get used to a bicycle without pedals. I needed to be around, I think, more because he now had a 'weird bicycle'. He needed to get used to lugging it around, first with me around him. After that I just let him be.

A week later, my son started demanding pedals back on his bicycle. He kept insisting it's time the pedals got back on. I was a little surprised. I knew this would teach him to balance, but a week (he probably used the bike only three or four times since) was too soon. That day again I went down to play with him and watch progress. I was pleasantly shocked to see my son had learnt to balance the bicycle. He had done it by himself and how quickly. The experiment, if you may, had worked!

Now, my son and I ride bicycles together.

PS: Pedals on not, please insist on always using a helmet while riding a bicycle. Theories and opinions aside, it's safe for children and adults alike.


What is it with the Swedish Crime fiction and TV shows...

...that they tend to be so gripping and completely worth the time spent?

This week I finished the second season of 'Bron/Broen' or The Bridge, the award winning Swedish/Danish TV crime fiction show; with Saga Norén and Martin Rohde in the lead, played by Sofia Helin and Kim Bodni. This was right after I finished the first season; because I had to see it! Odd as Saga maybe, real and in-touch-with-his-feelings that Martin maybe, and what a complementary pair they make, the characters just grow on you. If you have seen Bones, the US show, and remember Dr. Temperence 'Bones' Brennan, played skillfully by Emily Deschanel, you know a milder cousin of Saga! European shows make no bones of (no pun intended!) what they want to show or portray. The story line of Bron is simply gripping, the suspense creeps up on you, and in the end you get more than you expected. The cinematography seems largely 'grey' which adds to the drama and emphasizes the serious (sometimes Saga is really funny in her naiveté of emotions around people!) theme.

End of second season two, especially, brought out facets of Martin and Saga each that made you sit and think how do the writers and directors (several credited) pack so much into their work. The story line remains multidimensional throughout Helin and Bodni as well as a couple of others display immense talent. While the crime remains the main focus of the story, and you are in the detective mode all through, you cannot but wonder how the Saga and Norén's personalities will pan out given how their individual and separate lives are panning out as the series progresses. How many shows do that to you? (The Americans is an exceptional show in the same way).  Relationships are never easy, but the imminence of the inevitable lurks around in your mind even as you know things wouldn't workout how much ever you wish they would. I am sure I missed some dimensions even as I saw the original Swedish/Danish version with English subtitles. But what I felt watching Bron has made me start searching for more of the crime fiction shows from Scandinavia.

It all started last year, when I got in to a reading spree and managed to read about 50 books, mostly fiction, in the year. About a dozen or so were Swedish crime, starting with (of course!) Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, first of which is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I have not seen the movie yet, but I am not in a hurry. Some of the other writers I have managed to read so far include Karin Alvtegen (The Missing), Camilla Läckberg (The Preacher) and Henning Mankell (The Fifth Woman). I plan to read  Jo Nesbø's The Leapord, among others, soon. 

It had been a long time since I had read crime fiction. But, Swedish crime fiction pulled me back in to it. I must admit, I am a big fan of Jack Reacher by Lee Child. I have read all the books including novellas on Jack Reacher. That said, while I like Reacher for completely different reasons, little comes close the intense narrative of Swedish crime fiction, as far as crime fiction works go. I admit I am able to read the English translated version of these fine writings. So, while it would be great to have been able to read the books and watch the shows in native tongue, I am floored by what I have managed to gain from the translated or subtitled works.

A couple more useful links: 


Streaming Media from Windows 7 to Android

This article is a compilation of solutions for several issues (most of them) faced in setting up a streaming environment in your home wireless LAN.

Situation:  The idea was to primarily access media files on the PC from a phone and a tablet, all of them on the wi-fi network. But, I do not use a dedicated media center hardware or a suitably enabled external hard disk for this. My network has a wireless router, a Windows PC and a couple of Android devices. I wanted to create a streaming environment from my Windows desktop.

Basic Set-up: 

The following article is comprehensive and easy to follow. ES Explorer is probably one the best things that has happened to an Android phone. If you have already tried this and got stuck, skip to ‘Problem 1’.
Else, follow the steps shown in this article: APC Magazine article

By now, you should be streaming videos or music onto your tablet/phone. For me, the fun began at this stage. I faced all of the following issues and sorted them one by one. See where you are getting stuck and take it from there.

Problem 1: Basic permissions are not in place and/or sharing is off

This should help you check if any or all of the steps are in place:  
If you have done this and still unable to connect to the PC, you might wonder if you need a Windows domain.

Problem 2: You are unable to create a HomeGroup or Join a HomeGroup

If you are using Windows 7 Home Basic (or Starter) you cannot create a HomeGroup. Unless in your Wifi LAN you have a PC with a higher version of Windows Home, you will not be able to join a HomeGroup. But, you do not need one- you will have to rely on Public Folders.

Problem 3: You cannot locate Public Folders

The following helped sort this issue out: Microsoft Answers / Windows 7 Forum thread

Problem 4: On setting sharing permissions on Public Folders you see the error “You folder can’t be shared”

This can be quite frustrating since you will go over all the steps one by one and end up realising you might not have missed any of the above. One cannot be faulted for interpreting this error message as ‘something is missing in the way the folder is shared’. The message has to be simply understood as ‘There is no need to share this folder’. After all it is a public folder! So, if you are stuck here even after fixing sub folder level issues, it is likely not an issue at all. see if the following issue is causing the problem. The next step solved my problem.

Problem 5: Firewall!

Since it is the PC which is not accessible, check the firewall on your Windows PC. I use one of the sleekest (light on memory and network requirements) internet security packages – Kaspersky. By default, Kaspersky puts all the computers (read devices) on your wifi LAN under the Public Network category.  Maybe every firewall does. If you are using any other firewall/internet security, see if you can trace these steps on that.
  1. Open the Kaspersky Client and click ‘Settings’ 
  2. Look for Firewall under the ‘Protection Center’ menu
  3. In the FireWall Setting screen look at the list in ‘Networks’. This is a list of various network access hardware devices and Windows network profiles
  4. Scroll down to locate the primary device in use for wifi access on your PC. It will be the name of the Wireless Adaptor in use.
  5. The Anroid devices connected to the Wifi Router will be listed here. Most probably, the devices would be seen carrying values ‘Public Network’. Change these values to ‘Local Network
By now, ES Explorer LAN view on your Andriod device should be able to see all the shared files on your Windows PC. Have fun!


In The Rush: My White Water Rafting Experience

"My name is Viru and I am going to teach you why the paddle will be your best friend and maybe even your life saver today" is how the orientation began for about 40 of us gathered on a late December morning for a white water rafting experience. I looked around as everyone adjusted to the chill in the breeze blowing over the shallow waters. Shortly, the water would rise. We listened with rapt attention as he continued for the next fifteen minutes on how to hold the paddle correctly for effortless rowing, the need for synchronisation in rowing, what to do when one falls off the raft, safe position to float in rapids etc.

Interestingly, I spotted a few people in their mid to late fifties while most of the crowd was in their mid twenties. Bivouacking at a nature camp with my family I had decided to take the morning away for white water rafting in the Bhori river near Kolad, Maharashtra.  Regulated by a hydel power dam, the river is a popular rafting point, especially in the monsoon and is a Level 3 rapid for most parts. Around the year, however, the rapids are created by waters from a hydel dam that irrigate the farmland and serve as the primary source of potable water in the region.

As we waited for the gates of the dam to be opened, we were asked to fill up the "risk undertaking and non-indemnity" (i.e. "I am responsible for any kind of injury to me") form. We were geared up in helmets, life jackets and paddles in hand. I also had a dry bag slung on my back with some money, change of clothes and car keys in it. I had earlier driven down with Mercury Himalayan Expeditions (MHE) team in their pick up truck. Before that, it was with much curiosity I had witnessed deceptively lean looking Gorkhas load with deftness two fully inflated rafts, at least 12 feet long, and secure them on top of the truck. With equal swiftness, they had loaded about 40 life jackets, and an equal number of helmets and paddles in what was a morning routine for them.

A feeling of nervous confidence in the air, which had hitherto lingered around the gathered crowd, turned to one of exhilaration when we heard a roar of water gushing down the hill. We bellowed as we saw the rocky bed of the ravine submerge under the jetting irrigate. Some of the taller trees stood proudly above water, their tops proudly showing off their height above the filled up ravine. Water would continue to rise a few feet per minute for several more minutes. That was a lot of water rolling down the valley and I felt very small in the scheme of things. Knowing that such destructive force was managed by the touch of a few buttons offered superfluous consolation.

We took our spots on the dinghy, more randomly than by instruction or choice. The blue and yellow inflatable raft had a seating capacity of ten. There were six of us on this raft loosely anchored to the rocks by a rope. A raft leader would join us momentarily. I could make out from the talk going on in the raft that I was a with a group of students, five men well known to each other. Later, I was told by one of them that they were all doctoral candidates. I was amused thinking that between the six of us 17 academic degrees could be counted.

Just then, a man with swim tights and complete rafting gear hopped onto the boat. "My name is Deepak and I will be your raft leader today. Let's get this boat loose.", he said and untied the rope that anchored the raft. As a raft slowly drifted into the pool of back water created by the flash flood in the river, Deepak recalled the instructions and told us we would now practice all that we had learned in the past hour. I looked around to other boats doing the same manoeuvres as we were practicing. Right in the middle one of the MHE safety crew was bobbing in and out of water with his snug fit sit-in kayak; his way of getting the feel of the water. Noticing that we were struggling to synchronise, I volunteered a suggestion that the guys at the head of the boat sync each others' movements while each of us synced up with the person immediately in front of them. There was a round of "yeahs" as the idea sunk in.

Sooner or later, this was bound to happen, and it did: people started splashing water on each other and there was brief water fighting all around. Following suggestions from the raft leaders, some people jumped into water just to get the feel of how cold it was. No doubt those who jumped first were good swimmers. It was a little early for the non swimmers to get used to the comfort and security of the life jackets. The life jacket is probably the most fantastic safety equipment. But, more on that later.

I could see the first raft slowly rowed toward the current. Supported by the steady rush of the water, the boat eased itself downstream. Guided by Deepak, we made our way past the overhanging shrubs and bushes in the direction of the current. Immediately our training was put to action. As we steered clear of the trees jutting out the in the middle of the rapids, we kept our arms rowing to the direction of Deepak's voice. "Left side forward, right side back" turned the raft left, out of the way of the boat ahead of us,"We will soon hit our first rapid; this one is called 'Good Morning'!"

(To be Continued... Watch this space)


Getting in and out of Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan

A trip to Southern Rajasthan is not complete without a visit to the magnificent Adinatha Jain Temple at Ranakpur and the unconquered (except very briefly) fort of Kumbalgarh. But driving in this area can be confusing for many reasons. This has compelled me to put these tested directions, suitable for car driving, here.

Firstly, this is a protected forest area and probably the reason it's not well surveyed by Google Maps (As of August 2012). So, even the names of villages mentioned here will not come up on the Google Maps.

A quick look up on directions from Ranakpur to Kumbhalgarh gives you a 9.5 km route. Do not believe this route; it will lead you nowhere on your car. Some blogs have pointed out that it is a trekking route. Hotels will give you each a different route depending on whom and where you ask.

Commonly suggested route:

If you are staying in Sadri or Ghanerao, come down to Sadri main junction (12 KM West of Ghanerao) and proceed on SH49/32 to Ranakpur (East of Sadri). Ranakpur temple comes up at 9 KM and cannot be missed. From Ranakpur, proceed to Saeraa/Sairaa and then proceed to Kumbhalgarh. The distance to the fort from the Jain Temple is 45 km on this route. This is the most commonly suggested route but the same can be done in half as much.

Tested route from Ranakpur: 

Driving from Ranakpur to Sairaa (general direction East/ North East), about 5-6 km down, you will see a road to the left (roughly north) pointing to Kambha. Take this turn and follow this road for about 17 KM. Look for milestones to Kelwara and if needed confirm that the road is leading to the Qila. This route takes you to Kumbhalgarh fort in about 22 KM (from Ranakpur).

Caution about the Kambha route: the road has an initial 4 KM stretch that is seriously steep. So, if you are not comfortable pushing your car to this limit, not comfortable driving steep gradients or if you are have
passengers who get sick on steep/winding roads, avoid it. But this is a beautiful stretch and gets you there in half the time.

Best route from Kumbhalgarh to Udaipur:

Many will suggest the route via Gogundha. However, the route suggested below offers a broad two-lane road in superb condition.

From the fort, come down to Kelwara and follow the same road for about 45 KM towards Iswal/ Iswaal Chouraha. Iswaal is right on NH8 toll-free expressway. From here, you can reach Udaipur in less than 20 minutes.

Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarh are not to be missed. Make sure you spend more time there, than driving to and fro.